Christianity 201

December 29, 2018

Thunder! Lightning! Shaking!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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This is our fourth time featuring the writing of David Kitz at I Love the Psalms. David has served as an ordained minister with the Foursquare Gospel Church of Canada. For several years now, he has toured across Canada and into the United States with a variety of one man plays for both children and adults. For further information visit: http://www.davidkitz.ca/

LORD of the Storm

Reading: Psalm 29
A psalm of David.
Ascribe to the LORD, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the L
ORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
worship the L
ORD in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders,
the L
ORD thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
The voice of the L
ORD breaks the cedars;
the L
ORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
The voice of the L
ORD shakes the desert;
the L
ORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
The voice of the L
ORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The L
ORD gives strength to his people; the LORD
blesses his people with peace (NIV).

Reflection
In Psalm 29 we see and hear the LORD, the God of the storm. There is an evocative poetic style to this psalm that helps the reader to picture the fury of the approaching tempest. But we not only see the flashes of lightning and the power of the wind, we also hear the booming thunder as it shakes the desert. The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Nine times the psalmist repeats the phrase the voice of the LORD. In this psalm, the voice of the LORD is a very active force. The voice of the LORD thunders, breaks, strikes, shakes, twists and strips. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.

The voice of the LORD spoke the world into existence, set the planets in their orbits, and scattered the starry hosts across the heavens. A thunderstorm sweeping down from Lebanon is as nothing to Him.

But the LORD of the storm is also the LORD of peace. One day on the Sea of Galilee Jesus our Lord brought peace to the storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm (Mark 4:37-39).

Response: You are the LORD of the storm and the LORD of peace. When storms arise in my life help me to trust you completely. Lord Jesus, grant me peace in the midst of the storm. Amen.

Your Turn: Jesus says to us, Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40). Are you hearing him?

February 25, 2018

Sunday Worship

You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel.
– Psalm 22:3 NET

Today we feature the writing of singer, composer, recording artist and worship leader Tommy Walker. Today’s writing is part testimony, part teaching.

Understanding the Breakthrough Power of Worship

I can’t remember how many times I have felt like God was a million miles away and then, in an instant, I recognized that He was closer than the air I breathe.

The Bible says in Psalm 22:3 that He actually lives and dwells in our praises. This is the mystery and the miracle of the breakthrough power and presence of God when we worship! When we worship, we affirm the truth of God’s Word, and it is being rooted deep in our hearts.

When I was 11 years old, the Jesus Movement was taking hold in my hometown of El Paso, Texas. The church I attended began to be filled with long-haired, barefoot hippies. We sang acapella songs like “Hallelujah” over and over again. It really was an authentic, powerful move of God, but I was very young, so most of the time I was bored and distracted. However, I do remember watching the Holy Spirit move on people’s lives in a special way. I remember seeing high school kids worshiping and weeping at the mention of God’s love. There was such an amazing sense of grace and unity among everyone.

One Friday night as a Christian band was playing “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” it happened – for the first time, while observing everyone worshiping God, I began to sense God’s presence. I’ve heard it said that worship is a picture of the Gospel in motion, and it certainly was for me that night. I saw people displaying a kind of personal, intimate relationship with God that I wanted and needed. A relationship that I knew was made possible only by the blood of Jesus.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents gathering us around my mom’s baby grand piano and having us sing the old hymns of the church for what felt like hours. At 5, I would end up lying under the piano and eventually falling asleep. I didn’t think much about Jesus and the Gospel then, but on that Friday night as the Christian band performed, the God we had sung about became my own personal God. I sensed Him saying to me for the first time “Tommy, I love you and I have called you to do great things for Me.” I wept at the thought that the God of heaven wanted to save and use a young boy like me. I surrendered my life to Jesus that night. One of my life verses has been Psalm 40:3, “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (NIV).

Every person is created to be a worshiper. God dwells and, I believe, manifests Himself in the praises of His people. It has always been my prayer when I write songs and lead worship that the breakthrough power of God would bring the lost to Him–just like it happened for me.

After graduating from high school, I went to Bible college, and one of the areas I learned about was spiritual warfare. At first I resisted the training because I met people who spent so much time rebuking the devil. I thought they were giving the devil too much attention. To this day, I don’t agree with everything I saw there, but over time I have recognized that we are in a battle and there truly is an enemy that is out to destroy us.

Several years ago when I was doing a worship event in a poor neighborhood in Zambia, I sensed a darkness all around us–poverty, violence, abuse, hopelessness, hunger. We worshiped the Lord every night for more than an hour before we felt we could even begin to present the Gospel. Only then did we sense a real breakthrough in the spirit, and we saw hundreds come to Christ.

Through that event and others like it, I came to realize that worship is how we allow God to fight our battles for us. You may be familiar with the story of Jehoshaphat. Second Chronicles 20:22 says, “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (NIV). What a strange battle plan–but the result was that the Lord won the battle for them! There is something inherent in the act of worship that enables us to encounter the power of God like nothing else. It is not effective to simply tell someone to stop worrying; stop being proud; stop being self-consumed, distracted, insecure, bound and materialistic. But it is effective to tell them to start worshiping. When we make that decision to fix our eyes on Jesus, we quickly realize that God has already begun to release the grip these tendencies can have on our lives.

Worship is a declaration of our weakness and God’s strength. I challenge you in your next point of need to make that hard choice to be a worshiper and let the breakthrough God fight your battle for you.

When we worship, the invisible God is at work doing invisible and powerful things. We get realigned, refreshed and refueled; we find unspeakable joy and indescribable peace. We discover the breakthrough strength of God, which enables us to walk in the truth, live in His presence and see Him fight our battles for us. It is how we can put the beauty of the Gospel on display, receive His many blessings and at the same time be a blessing to the world.


If you’re not familiar with Tommy Walker’s music, here is one of his best-known songs, He Knows My Name

 

October 9, 2017

Prayer is not Cathartic

Today we’re paying our second visit with Joe Waller at the blog As I Learn to Walk. Click the title below to read this at the original page or to leave comments.

A Realization

Asking for prayer is not just a sanctified sympathy request (though I often unconsciously see it that way).

Verses such as 1 Peter 5:7, where Peter calls believers to “[cast] all your anxieties on [God], because he cares for you,” bring great comfort to Christians. We revel in the fact that God comforts the downcast, that he cares about us though we are as fleeting mists before him. As the psalmist testifies, “When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul” (Psalm 94:19). God, the creator and the sustainer of all, gives ear to his children. Though infinitely transcendent, God is also beautifully immanent.

In spite of this profound truth, I live like God is only transcendent, separate from my life and experiences. When I find myself struggling, in need of support, I often desire the sympathy of my friends rather than the strengthening of God. I ask those near me for prayer, but, recently, I’ve noticed that I share those requests in part to get attention, not simply to seek the Lord. (To clarify, I don’t mean to say that all of my prayer requests are solely for the sake of attention; I’m simply highlighting a problematic tendency I’ve noticed in my walk.) I’ve noticed the issue extend into my personal prayers as well. I pour out my heart to God, yet I do so in some ways more for catharsis than for the pursuit of God’s help. I pray, but I don’t consider the fact that God may answer, that God may speak.

As I considered this trend, I realized that such a practice is completely bogus. Biblically, God not only cares about our needs, but he responds to our prayers. James writes that God will give wisdom to those who ask him (James 1:5-8). Toward the end of his short book, he calls believers to pray for one another, citing the example of Elijah who “was a man with a nature like ours, [who] prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit” (James 5:16-18). The psalmists also speak of God’s faithfulness to answer prayers. One writes,

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
Psalm 66:16-20

Throughout Scripture, we find testimonies of those who prayed and were answered, of those who turned to the Lord and were heard.

I can relate to the disciples who asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). I am no expert on prayer. In fact, I regularly feel inadequate when I pray. Slowly, graciously, God is teaching me to pray, to come before him in humility and in hope. God’s Word changes how I think about prayer and about prayer requests by changing how I think about myself and how I think about God. Meditating on Scripture, mining the depths of God’s self-revelation, turns my gaze away from myself and fixes it upon him. I worry less about feeling better and focus more on honoring him. Suffering becomes an avenue of sanctification (James 1:2-4), and joys become opportunities to praise (1 Thessalonians 5:16). This week, let us live, and pray, for his glory, trusting that our good is found in the pursuit of his kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:33).

February 23, 2017

Little Power and Great Affirmation in Philadephia: Revelation 3

by Clarke Dixon

You feel powerless. Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it. There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution. The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way. What are we to do when we feel powerless?

Our friends may respond with a big dose of positive thinking; you are powerful, you can do anything, you are amazing! And sometimes, when we are thinking of ourselves more lowly than we ought, we need affirmation. But sometimes affirmation falls short. It feels hollow somehow. It is not just that we think we can’t fix it, or find the solution, or find our way. It is that we can not fix it, find the solution, or find our way. Sometimes we don’t just feel powerless, we are powerless.

In Revelation chapter three we have a letter to a small community of Christians who are of “little power.” (Revelation 3:8) This small community of Christians in Philadelphia could easily feel overwhelmed by those loyal to Roman ways of thinking and acting. They could also feel overwhelmed by those who strictly observe the Hebrew Bible but who don’t share their excitement over Jesus as the fulfillment of those scriptures. These two communities were much larger than the Christian community, and persecution was known to happen. So what does Jesus have to say to these powerless Christians?

Here is what Jesus says:

“These are the words of the holy one . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus is in effect saying, “I am the Holy One, and so the only One who has the power of God.” We read in Mark chapter 1 of a demon saying “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” (Mark 1:24). The demon knew Jesus had the power to destroy because the demon knew Jesus was God’s Holy One. 

“. . . the true one, . . .” (Revelation 3:7)

The word “true” here means “authentic, genuine.” Jesus is the “real deal.” No one but Jesus can promise relationship with God, life, or eternal life, and deliver on the promise.

“. . . who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.” (Revelation 3:7)

Jesus holds the key of of the Kingdom, and makes decisions on the door of the Kingdom. Persecutors may make decisions about a person’s death, but Jesus is the one who makes decisions on every person’s life & eternal life.

“I know your works.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus knows stuff! Nothing escapes his notice, neither the patient suffering of the persecuted, nor the evil deeds of those who persecute.

“Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” (Revelation 3:8)

Jesus creates opportunities. It may feel like opportunity belongs to the strong and powerful. However, Jesus can create opportunities for those with little to no power.

“I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet,” (Revelation 3:9)

In other words “I will make justice happen.” There is a turning of the tables here, from the Philadelphian Christians being kicked out of the synagogue to those of the synagogue gathering around them.

“ . . . and they will learn that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9)

Jesus will clear up misunderstandings. Those who hate people because they think God hates them will someday find out whom God loves and how foolish it was to hate.

“I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.” (Revelation 3:10)

Here Jesus promises to hold the Christians through a time of trial. There are differing interpretations on the “what” and “when” of this “hour of trial.” The important thing is the promise of Jesus to keep his people through it.

“I am coming soon;” (Revelation 3:11)

Jesus will return and those persecutors who say that he is of no consequence, will see him and come to a new appreciation of just Who He is.

“If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it.” (Revelation 3:12)

Jesus will ensure the believer’s presence with God. They may have been cast out of the synagogue, and disowned by the city, but Jesus will give them a secure standing in his temple, the Bible’s great symbol for the presence of God.

“I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.” (Revelation 3:12)

This is a promise of inclusion in God’s people, as well as a promise of reflection of God’s character, a “family resemblance” if you will.

The Christians in Philadelphia have little power. Does Jesus respond with affirmation, telling them that they have much more power than they think? There is affirmation, but most of the affirmations are about Jesus Himself! Let us look at the full letter to Philadelphia and notice the affirmations that pertain to Jesus:

And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth. 11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Revelation 3:7-13 (emphasis mine)

Jesus does not affirm the power of his followers. He affirms His own power! In other words Jesus is telling the Christians in Philadelphia that they do not need to be God. He is! They do not need to be powerful. He is, and He loves them. Their part is to keep doing what they have been doing;

“I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. . . . Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, . . .” (Revelation 3:8,10).

Do you feel powerless? Something is broken and you don’t think you can fix it? There is a problem and you don’t think you can find a solution? The complexities of life are like a maze and you don’t think you can find your way? Perhaps you are correct. But you are not God. You don’t have to be. Look instead to the One Who Is.

There is one matter in life where we are completely and utterly powerless. We have absolutely no power to reconcile ourselves to God. But God does. And He has made it happen through Jesus at the cross. Let us not look to ourselves with false affirmations, but look to our Lord and Saviour with honest affirmations of His power and love.

 All Scripture references are from the NRSV

 Original Source: Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon

February 1, 2017

No Human Body Could Take the Full Impact of God’s Presence

With so much material to draw from, starting this month we will occasionally repeat some of the original devotional/study posts which have appeared here. This one is from 2013.


Exodus 33 20No One Can See God And Live

Occasionally I will read or hear conjecture as to what a “glorified body” will consist of when we leave this life and begin life in a New Earth governed by a new order. People speak of being able to transport instantly from one location to another in a manner reminiscent of Star Trek’s “beam me up.” Others wonder about food consumption, since scripture mentions a “marriage supper.” One discussion centered on clothing, because in God’s original order in the garden, the man and his wife were naked. (The conclusion was that yes, we will be, but our minds will be changed so we won’t think of it the same way.)

But I think the biggest change that will occur in those bodies will be that we will be able to withstand seeing God; we will be able to contain the impact of His presence. Have you ever heard that phrase, “No one can see God and live”? Where does that come from?

The reference is from Exodus 33:20. Here’s the story of a direct conversation — not a vision or dream — in context from the NLT with the key verse underlined:

Moses Sees the Lord’s Glory

12One day Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

14The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”

15Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

17The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

18Moses responded, “Then show me your glorious presence.”

19The Lord replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, Yahweh,c before you. For I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose. 20But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21The Lord continued, “Look, stand near me on this rock. 22As my glorious presence passes by, I will hide you in the crevice of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will remove my hand and let you see me from behind. But my face will not be seen.”

(whole chapter)

This is reinforced in the New Testament:

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.

and

John 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

and

1 Timothy 6:16 12Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.13I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate,14that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ,15which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,16who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.

(A parallel to that last passage is something familiar if you’ve sung the chorus How Great is Our God: Psalm 104:2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. )

That doesn’t mean that some have not come close. We know that just a chapter later, when Moses received the “big ten” his face shone when he came down from the market.

The Radiant Face of Moses

29When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. 32Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai.

33When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. 34But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.

This is confirmed in II Cor. 3:7 (ESV)

7Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

This is also reminiscent of the familiar passage in Isaiah 6

1It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. 2Attending him were mighty seraphim, each having six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!”

4Their voices shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire building was filled with smoke.

5Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”

Finally, we can’t begin to scratch the surface of this topic without considering the transfiguration in Matthew 17:

1After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Be sure to see also Revelation 10:1

Today’s reading was prepared using the online site, Bible Hub.

January 16, 2017

On Speaking Things into Existence

As I grow older, one of the striking things about the distinctions between denominations is not the doctrinal beliefs per se, but rather the terminology used which differs from church to church. For many of you as well, the phrase speaking things into existence probably sounds like something you would hear in a Charismatic or Pentecostal context. The implied message in these congregations is that this is something we can do.

The origin of the phrase begins in Romans 4:17

As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed–the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (NIV)

On a forum at Biblical Hermenuetics the challenge is spelled out:

Rom 4:16-17:

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring — not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” — in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. (ESV)

This last part reads, in NA-28:

καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄντα ὡς ὄντα

I’m having a hard time arriving at the English given above (which is consistent with most translations [but see below]), which seems to entail a reference to creation ex nihilo. The phrase is literally something like:

calling that which is not being as being

Unclear to me are both the meaning of καλέω (to call) is this context and the meaning of the ὡς + participle construction, which seems most often to indicate “as [if] being/doing X”.2 Interestingly, the KJV gives:

and calleth those things which be not as though they were.

While this English isn’t exceptionally clear, I at least understand how it relates to the Greek…

I decided to investigate this verse in various commentaries.

  • The NIV Study Bible reminds us that the context in Romans 4 is Abraham, and notes that the birth of Isaac is an example of God creating out of nothing.
  • The Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (p. 934) continues this theme. Paul “introduces the historical fact that God in his mysterious providence and testing kept Abraham and Sarah waiting for the fulfillment of the promise of a son until long after human conception and birth was physical possibility, thereby heightening the miracle of the event and the absolute necessity of faith. It was Abraham’s trust in God as true to his word in spite of appearances and the fact that he “was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.”
  • The Eerdman’s Bible Commentary (p. 1024) notes that the speaking things into existence is a divine attribute and that actually two are listed, the other being giving life to the dead. Clearly, this isn’t necessarily something we can do.
  • The International Bible Commentary (p. 1325) reminds us that God “can both renew life and issue his creative call.” There is a reference to Isaiah 41:4 “Who has performed and accomplished it, Calling forth the generations from the beginning? ‘I, the LORD, am the first, and with the last. I am He.'” (NASB)
  • The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (p. 1125) spends a little longer with this verse: “This is the Lord’s power to create. It could also easily be translated: God calls into being what does not exist as (easily as he calls) that which does exist. No mortal can comprehend the divine creative power. The bringing of animate and inanimate objects into existence and their maintenance is God’s activity . The nature of the objects may be discussed — mind, matter, energy — but the why and how of their existence can be known accurately only to the extent that the Lord reveals them.

At the website Heartland, we’re presented with a much longer Bible study on the subject of God speaking things into existence which focuses on three examples:

  1. Creation
  2. Sin (an interesting concept to consider; I had to read this one twice)
  3. Salvation

…So can we speak things into existence?

I started out by saying this verse gives birth to certain phrases commonly in use in certain types of churches. Please don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to ask God to increase our faith. I believe we are to pray in faith. I believe in a God of miracles. But I’m not sure its right to import particular words or expressions into situations they were never meant to address. It certainly sounds spiritual to speak of “speaking it into existence” but it might be misappropriation of that particular verse.

In a sermon this fall, Willow Creek Discipleship Director Rick Shurtz said, “If you have to speak it into existence you’re not trusting God, you’re playing God.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 1, 2017

Accomplishing Your New Year’s Resolution

resolutionsby Russell Young

Blessings to you in the new year! Many welcome the new year with resolutions and great intentions.  Research shows that most resolutions will not be realized.  The University of Scranton has stated that 39% of people in their twenties will achieve their resolution each year while only 14% of people over 50 years of age will achieve theirs. Perhaps greater success is achieved by younger people because of the nature of their resolutions, that habits are more entrenched in older people, or it may be that younger people are more determined to achieve their resolutions.  Regardless, change in behaviour is difficult to accomplish.  Some changes require the development of a completely different perspective, and all require motivation. Resolutions are not made concerning a single happening, but are intended to alter a developed pattern of action or attitude; they have become patterns because they have brought satisfaction or pleasure to the person who has adopted them.

Paul has shed some light on this aspect of the human condition. Although many accept that eternal salvation comes from pardon for sin, it really comes from the product that the Lord is able to accomplish in the transformation of a person; it is the result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5─6; 2Thess 2:13) making the believer a sacrifice acceptable to God. (Romans 15:16) A person’s transformation/sanctification requires a great deal of work and power.  Paul addressed the dilemma that he faced concerning his own inadequacy in the taming of his body.  He wrote: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.  What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death (that causes death)? The flesh is weak! 

Paul followed up his predicament with its solution. “Thanks be to God—through Jesus our Lord!” (Rom 7:21─25 NIV) “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son…” (Rom 8:3 NIV) The reason why human resolutions and the laws of God are often not fulfilled is because their completion rests in a weakened sinful nature. Resolutions are made with good intentions but the weakness of the flesh often dooms people to failure.  Those who resolve to adjust their habits intend to do so…they want to keep their resolutions; the body just does not accommodate.

Try as one will the realization of a resolution cannot often be accomplished without divine help.  If the believer is being impressed with the need for change, the prompting for change probably came from the Holy Spirit. Change is not easy and should not be accepted as being easy, but it can be done.  Victory lies within the grace and power of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the believer’s commitment to honour the Spirit’s calling.  It is often the lack of motivation and the weakness of the flesh that brings failure.

The Spirit is Christ in the believer (Col 1:27; 2 Cor 3: 17, 18) and he will lead and empower for victory, but those seeking victory must engage the battle with him. Prayer and commitment to honour the Lord through the successful completion of a resolution can never be abandoned. To do so means that the “believer” has fallen under the slavery of the weak, old nature and has relented to serving the flesh rather than God’s Son. If a person relies on his or her own strength for victory, they will revert to the old nature and to old patterns.  Victory demands a struggle with an objective, a determination of the will, and the power provided by the helper, the Lord.

Resolutions can fall into many categories but often they are related to expressing love and kindness toward a family member or brother in the Lord, or they may relate to gaining victory over habits that are offensive to others.  They may involve better financial management necessitating a reduction in love for the world and the things in the world.  They may also be related to issues of forgiveness.  Many resolve to treat their bodies with greater respect in some manner. These are all issues that deal with the development of the righteousness for which we hope. (Gal 5:5) They are issues important to Christ.

Since righteousness is not a trivial matter, neither should be the believer’s approach to its development.  Even in matters that might seem trivial, the faithful will bring their need before God in prayer, with commitment, and in expectation. Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice and they follow me…” (Jn 10:27 NIV) It is through the practice of obedience that victory can be gained. To hear requires listening. The voice of God often comes through the quiet whisperings of a person’s conscience and the one seeking success will not dismiss these.  The Word promises that believer will not be faced with temptations from which a way out will not be provided, and states that he or she will not face temptations that are not common to man. (1 Cor 10:13) Even though a resolution may not seem to require victory over a “temptation,” it may have been induced through an issue that the Spirit has brought to mind and he is always ready to help the humble and submissive to enable victory over any issue that is in keeping with his will for that person.

New Year’s resolutions are important to the one making them and they may be important to God. Self-discipline and the leading and the power of the Spirit can assure that they are realized.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngCheck out Russell Young’s book now in print and eBook — Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

March 19, 2016

Breath of God

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The writers of scripture constantly search for imagery and metaphors to help us understand our God, and yet I suspect none of these comes even remotely close to a complete picture of who God is. Today we pay a return visit to Leon Dean at the blog Come See A Man. Click the title below to read at source.

God’s breath: how powerful?

A few days ago, I was chatting with some buddies about the Bible and we came upon the topic of the breath of God. I walked away from that conversation with a deeper appreciation of the sheer power of God’s breath. God is omnipotent. We are not. I can’t do much with my breath than spread a few dandelion seeds around my lawn.

God can do much more with His breath. Let’s look at a few examples from the Bible:

1. With His breath, God created man.

Gen. 2:7 – “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Adam was formed out of the dust of the ground, but he was just a lifeless piece of earth until God breathed into him. When God breathed into him, Adam became a living soul. Adam became a human, the most complicated and sophisticated of all God’s creatures.

2. With His breath, God wrote the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”

Physically, it seems that Bible was written by more than 40 different authors over a period of more than 1,500 years. But in reality, the Bible was written by God exhaling. Because God breathed out the Bible, there are deeper spiritual realities behind the physical words on its pages.

3. With His breath, God destroys His enemies.

The Bible contains numerous cases of God defeating His enemies simply by breathing on them. For example, Job 4:9 speaks of the consequences for those who plow iniquity: “By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.”

The most poignant example of victory by breath, however, is still to come. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 describes the fate of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist): “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth… Antichrist will fight with all his might and all his armies, but he will be slain by nothing more than a gentle puff from the the Lord’s mouth. Kind of anticlimactic.

4. With His breath, God gave us the Holy Spirit.

John 20:22 – “And when He had said this, He breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Of all the things that God has done and will do with His breath, this is my favorite. After the resurrection, when the Lord breathed on His disciples, they didn’t just smell the fish He was preparing for them. Through the Lord’s breath, the disciples actually received the Holy Spirit. Today, it is the same. The Lord desires to breathe the Holy Spirit into people. All we have to do is open up and receive.


Today we end with the classic hymn Breathe On Me Breath of God. After considering various versions we went with something traditional.

 

December 21, 2015

Asking for a Double Portion

2 Kings 1 (NLT) When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal…

…8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

Though much more meaningful than a “What do you want for Christmas?” type of question, Elisha is still given a wide open set of possibilities when Elijah asks him what he would like. It’s a question of what Elijah will “do” so some type of blessing is in view here, but Elisha’s response is unique in scripture.

Most translations refer to the request as for a “double portion” but we also have:

  • Let me have twice your spirit (CEB)
  • Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets (CEV)
  • Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit. (Holman)
  • Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you. (Peterson)
  • Leave me a double share of your spirit. (NCV, NRSV, NLT and others)

Double PortionEven with the help of various translations, I still wasn’t clear as to what was meant by the request. Did he want be Elijah-times-two? Actually, the translation by Peterson above (The Message) is closest to what I read at sermonnotebook.org : (I’ve underlined key sentences)

The Content Of His Request – Elisha asked to receive double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The request was not for twice the power that had rested on Elijah. The request was to be recognized as Elijah’s replacement. Of course, he had already been selected by God for that position – 1 Kings 19:16. It was common for firstborn children to receive a double portion of their father’s estate. This was mandated by the Law, Deut. 21:17. (Note: He called Elijah “my father” in verse 12.) Elisha was asking for the right of the firstborn! He was asking that the same Spirit that had empowered the ministry of this great man of God be given to him as well. What kind of spirit was he asking for?

1. A Spirit Of Faith – Elijah learned to trust in the presence and power of God in this world. He knew that God was in absolute control of every situation. He walked by faith!

2. A Spirit Of Obedience – Elijah instantly and without question, even when the commands of God made no sense at all!

3. A Spirit Of Courage – His faith in God and his obedience to God combined to give him the courage to stand for God, even when others ran away.

He merely wanted to take over where Elijah had left off. He wanted to be the next prophet to Israel!

But scripture, ever rich in meaning, can offer us multiple perspectives, insights and applications. At biblestudytools.com the double portion is said to be: (again, I’ve done some underlining; read slowly)

The two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does.

Many… have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct; and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah’s power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.

So when you’re asked what you want for Christmas, you can give the person who asked you something to think about when you say, “A double portion of God’s Spirit.” Seriously, what better thing could Elisha, or any of us, ask for?


We’ve covered the meaning of “double portion” before here in May of 2012 in an excellent devotional study by K.W. Leslie.


Do you have a verse or passage you’d like to see studied here? Send us the reference using the contact/submissions page.

October 4, 2015

The Certainty of a Conditional Promise: If We _____, Then God Will _____.

Just a few weeks ago we looked at this verse:

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.
 2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT

Whatever God has promised gets stamped with the Yes of Jesus. In him, this is what we preach and pray, the great Amen, God’s Yes and our Yes together, gloriously evident. God affirms us, making us a sure thing in Christ, putting his Yes within us. By his Spirit he has stamped us with his eternal pledge—a sure beginning of what he is destined to complete. (same verse + 21 and 22, The Message)

Years ago churches would sing a hymn titled Standing On The Promises. (If you’re above a certain age, you’ll remember it like this.) The second verse begins with our trust in the promises themselves:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.

The fourth verse begins with what that says for us in our Christian pilgrimage:

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.

The promises themselves are sure and trustworthy, and by them — if I live out any conditions set forth — I am assured of spiritual victory. The Reformation Study Bible* is consistent with this interpretation:

Christ fulfills all the promises of God to us, and all our confidence in God’s promises must come from our trust in Jesus Christ as a person whom we know and can rely on.

The Dictionary of Bible Themes* has a long section about “Divine Promises” which begins:

The promises of God reveal his particular and eternal purposes to which he is unchangeably committed and upon which believers can totally depend. These promises are, however, conditional upon obedience on the part of believers.

God’s promises are irrevocable

He is absolutely trustworthy Nu 23:19 See also Tit 1:2; Heb 6:13-18

He is unchanging Ps 110:4; Mal 3:6-7; Jas 1:17-18

He has the power and will to fulfill his promises Isa 55:11 See also Ro 4:21

He is faithful in keeping all his promises Jos 21:45; Jos 23:14-15; 1Ki 8:56; Ps 145:13; Heb 10:23

His promises stem from his goodness and glory 2Pe 1:3-4

God may confirm his promises with an oath Ge 22:15-18 See also Ge 26:3; Isa 45:23; Am 6:8; Am 8:7

But what is meant by “yes and amen?” At the blog The River Walk we read the following:

2 Corinthians 1:20 (Yes And Amen)

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)

Read: Job 23:1 – 27:23, 2 Corinthians 1:12 – 2:11, Psalm 41:1-13, Proverbs 22:5-6

[all of the listed passages appear at the above link]

Relate: Depending on who is counting there is roughly three thousand to thirty-five hundred promises made by God in the Bible. Granted, many of them are situational, person specific, and time limited, but that is a minority. Even if more than half were to fall into one of these categories, we have well over a thousand remaining. A significant number of God’s promises are “If… then…” promises. For example, IF we keep our mind focused on Him THEN God has promised to give us perfect peace. (Isaiah 26:3) Some might complain that all of these are conditional. Well duh. I for one am glad. I wouldn’t want to be living in perfect peace if my mind keeps wandering off in sinful directions. I would rather have a divine discontent that would force me to repent.

Even with these conditional promises, it is important to remember that all scripture, especially the Word of God, is authoritative and infallible. What we mean by that is first that scripture has the right and the power to be our authority in life. We have a responsibility to order our life based on its teachings. The second half of that, infallible, means that scripture cannot fail. When we live based on its rules of faith and conduct it will not, it cannot fail us. In other words, when we hold up our IF part of the promise, the THEN is a guarantee. You can bank on it. It is yes and amen. That is my promise to you.

React: So what are some of God’s promises? There are so many, it is hard to limit it, but here are my top 20(ish)

1. God will always be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9) even to the end of time. (Matthew 28:20)
2. God will never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
3. God cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
4. I am justified freely by God’s grace (Romans 3:24) that I have access to (Romans 5:2) and that is sufficient (2 Corinthains 12:9)
5. The incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. (Philippians 4:7)
6. If I love and am called by God, Then all things work for my good. (Romans 8:28)
7. If I ask, Then God will provide. (James 4:2)
8. If I resist the devil, Then he will run away. (James 4:7)
9. Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35)
10. If I am God’s sheep (I hear and follow Him), Then nothing can snatch me from His (Father and Son) hand. (John 10:27-29)
11. The Holy Spirit will help me to pray effectively. (Romans 8:26-27)
12. God will not lie to me because He cannot lie. (Titus 1:2)
13. The Holy Spirit will lead me into all truth (John 16:3) and give me the right words to say. (Mark 13:11)
14. God will supply all my needs. (Philippians 4:19)
15. If I sow, Then I will reap. (Galatians 6:7)
16. If I labor in the Lord, Then it will not be fruitless. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
17. If I approach the throne of grace, Then I will receive mercy and find grace to help in my time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
18. I have an inheritance. (Ephesians 1:14)
19. I am being transformed into God’s image. (Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:17)
20. Christ is in me. (Colossians 1:27)

Finally, the IVP New Testament Commentary affirms:

…God’s faithfulness in and through Jesus was preached by Paul without any wavering or inconsistency, so that the consistency of his message ensured the consistent character of his motives and actions. As the Corinthians themselves could verify, there was no “yes” and “no” about the Son whom Paul and his colleagues preached. His consistency in the greater matters ensured his reliability in the comparatively lesser matters.

Music resource: Click the link above for the River Walk blog, or listen to Your Promises by Elevation Worship at this link.


*Click the “Study This” tab for this verse at BibleGateway.com

 

 

September 12, 2015

The Great Omission

Today we pay a return visit to Steven C. Mills of Steve’s Bible Meditations. (CEB refers to the Common English Bible, a newer translation that I also use frequently.) Click the title below to read this at source.

The Great Omission (from the Great Commission) – Matthew 28:19-20

Great-Omission“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:19-20, CEB).

After His death and resurrection in Jerusalem, Jesus made several post-resurrection appearances to His disciples in Jerusalem and in Galilee. It was in Galilee that Jesus appeared to His disciples (some believe the “more than 500” that Paul described in 1 Corinthians 15:6) and directed them to “go and make disciples of all nations.”

All Christians are very familiar with the Great Commission. In fact, you could say that Christianity is organized around the Great Commission. Almost everything we do as the Church is in response to the Great Commission.

But, in our zeal to perform the first part of the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples,” we sometimes omit the second part, “I will be with you.”

I think that Jesus was telling His disciples– after His death and resurrection and before His ascension into heaven–that He would still be with them in much the same way that He was with them for the three years of His earthly ministry. He talked with them. He taught them. He guided them. He counseled with them. He was with them. Jesus was their leader and they followed Him!

But, sometimes we want to implement, organize, expedite, administer and manage the Great Commission without consulting Jesus.  We want to do it our own way instead of subjecting ourselves to the empowering presence of Jesus to direct us and enable us.

So, what if we decided to put Jesus first in the Great Commission? Maybe it would go something like this: “I will be with you, so go and make disciples?”

Jesus is with us!  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19), dwells in us and with us to empower us to accomplish the Great Commission. And, if you think about it, we can’t really make disciples for Jesus without His presence and power: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, CEB).

So, before we go make disciples for Jesus, we need to be with Jesus. We need Him to be present with us by making ourselves available to Him, by submitting our own will and our own way to God’s will and God’s way.

Because, the best way to eliminate the Great Omission from the Great Commission is through Complete Submission.

Jesus said to everyone, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23, CEB)

April 21, 2015

Praying When You Feel Spiritually Weak

Today we pay a return visit to The BLB Blog, part of the website Blue Letter Bible, an online Bible search tool.  Click the title to read this at source.

What to Pray for When You’re Feeling Spiritually Weak

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth that is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
(Ephesians 3:14-21)

In the middle of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church, we find this special prayer.  Remember, Paul helped plant the church in Ephesus, so there is no doubt he had a certain level of brotherly love for them. Here, in the middle of his letter, he expresses a desire to see his dear friends gain spiritually strength. How does he encourage them toward this? Not by commands or exhortations, but by prayer.

Paul prays for their spiritual strength

If you’re anything like me, you understand the need for a prayer like that. You’re probably less accustomed to feeling spiritually strong and more accustomed to feeling spiritually weak. If so, Paul’s prayer might be a great place to start for you. By studying it, we can learn how to pray for spiritual strength.

Notice that Paul does not pray for outside circumstances to change. That is not his goal in this prayer. He wants his readers to be spiritually strong; so instead of praying for their outside circumstances to change, Paul’s focus is on an inward work of God:

  • verse 16: He prays that God would “strengthened [them] with power in [their] inner being”
  • verse 19: He prays that they would “be filled with all the fullness of God”
  • verse 20: He talks about “God’s power at work within us”

What you and I need when we are feeling spiritually weak is more than a new set of circumstances; we need an inward spiritual power and strength.

The Holy Spirit’s role

Here’s how God strengthens our inner being:

Through the Holy Spirit. It is not by our own mustering, but by His. God the Holy Spirit is the one who supernaturally works within to provide that spiritual strength (16). He gives us new desires, helps us walk in obedience, and conforms us into the image of Christ. If we want spiritual strength, then we are dependent on the supernatural work of God, not on the changing of our circumstances.

And here’s how the Spirit strengthens us: by deepening our knowledge of the love of Christ.

How do you normally measure your spiritual strength? By your feelings? Your performance? Your relationships?

How does God actually strengthen us? It’s not about having an emotional experience; it’s much deeper and greater than that. If you are longing for spiritual strength, then you need a deeper comprehension.

A deeper comprehension of the gospel

So a question we should be asking ourselves is this: Is there a deepening comprehension of Christ’s love? This is what we should pray for when we are feeling spiritually weak. Paul says that strength comes from “being rooted and grounded in love.” The love of Jesus—His life, His death, His burial, His resurrection—is what we need to be rooted in. To be “rooted and grounded in love” is to have a deep understanding of all that God has done for us through Christ.

Now, is Paul saying anything new here? The church in Ephesus should already know this stuff, right? I mean, Paul himself planted the church, so surely he should know that they already know all this gospel stuff, right? But Paul is not merely praying that they comprehend the gospel; he is praying for a deepening of their comprehension. He wants them to know not just the components of the gospel but the massiveness of it—how high, how long, how wide, how deep it is. He wants them to understand that this good news “surpasses knowledge.”

We should pray for this too. That’s what we need when we are feeling spiritually weak. We need to be rooted in the gospel and grounded in love. We need a deeper comprehension of the good news. So that’s what we pray for.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see more of your power. I want to see more of what you have done and what you have accomplished through Jesus Christ. Strengthen me with the wisdom of Your word, the knowledge of your sovereign work in the world, and a deeper comprehension of your love toward sinners like me. Amen.

 

 

March 12, 2015

Breathe on Me, Breath of God

Today’s thoughts come from Leon Dean at the blog Come See A Man. Click the title below to read at source.

 

God’s breath: how powerful?

A few days ago, I was chatting with some buddies about the Bible and we came upon the topic of the breath of God. I walked away from that conversation with a deeper appreciation of the sheer power of God’s breath. God is omnipotent. We are not. I can’t do much with my breath than spread a few dandelion seeds around my lawn.

God can do much more with His breath. Let’s look at a few examples from the Bible:

1. With His breath, God created man.

Gen. 2:7 – “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Adam was formed out of the dust of the ground, but he was just a lifeless piece of earth until God breathed into him. When God breathed into him, Adam became a living soul. Adam became a human, the most complicated and sophisticated of all God’s creatures.

2. With His breath, God wrote the Bible.

2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,”

Physically, it seems that Bible was written by more than 40 different authors over a period of more than 1,500 years. But in reality, the Bible was written by God exhaling. Because God breathed out the Bible, there are deeper spiritual realities behind the physical words on its pages.

3. With His breath, God destroys His enemies.

The Bible contains numerous cases of God defeating His enemies simply by breathing on them. For example, Job 4:9 speaks of the consequences for those who plow iniquity: “By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed.”

The most poignant example of victory by breath, however, is still to come. 2 Thessalonians 2:8 describes the fate of the man of lawlessness (Antichrist): “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth…” Antichrist will fight with all his might and all his armies, but he will be slain by nothing more than a gentle puff from the the Lord’s mouth. Kind of anticlimactic.

4. With His breath, God gave us the Holy Spirit.

John 20:22 – “And when He had said this, He breathed into them and said to them, Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Of all the things that God has done and will do with His breath, this is my favorite. After the resurrection, when the Lord breathed on His disciples, they didn’t just smell the fish He was preparing for them. Through the Lord’s breath, the disciples actually received the Holy Spirit. Today, it is the same. The Lord desires to breathe the Holy Spirit into people. All we have to do is open up and receive.


Do you have an idea for a devotional post? Try your hand at writing a devotional based on a scripture God has placed on your heart. Submit it; we’ll critique it, edit it and send it back to your final approval and then possibly print it here.

February 2, 2015

Marching in the Trees

II Samuel 5:24 And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then rouse yourself, for then the Lord has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” (ESV)

Angels tread light, and he that can walk upon the clouds can, when he pleases, walk on the tops of trees, or (as bishop Patrick understands it) at the head of the mulberry-trees, that is, of the wood, or hedge-row of those trees. ~ Matthew Henry

Today we pay a return visit to Alistair Begg, pastor and host of the Christian radio program Truth for Life.  He writes and broadcasts to a much older audience than most readers here, but I believe we can learn much from the writings of another generation if we just slow down enough to take in what they have to teach us.

First, a definition of a term in the first sentence that is not used as much in the modern church:

Unction = ( 1 John 2:20 1 John 2:27 ; RSV, “anointing”)  Kings, prophets, and priests were anointed, in token of receiving divine grace. All believers are, in a secondary sense, what Christ was in a primary sense, “the Lord’s anointed.”  (Easton’s Bible Dictionary sourced at Bible Study Tools.)

Here I would add that this should not be confused with the Roman Catholic sacrament of the same name. If your background is Catholic Church, you may find the use of term confusing.

To read the devotional at source, and see others by the same author, click the title below.

Be Prepared

The members of Christ’s Church should be very prayerful, always seeking the unction of the Holy One to rest upon their hearts, that the kingdom of Christ may come, and that His “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”1 But there are times when God seems especially to favor Zion; such seasons ought to be to them like “the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees.”

We ought then to be doubly prayerful, doubly earnest, wrestling more at the throne than we have been used to do. Action should then be prompt and vigorous. The tide is flowing–now let us pull manfully for the shore. Oh, for Pentecostal outpourings and Pentecostal labors.

Christian, in yourself there are times “when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees.” You have a peculiar power in prayer; the Spirit of God gives you joy and gladness; the Scripture is open to you; the promises are applied; you walk in the light of God’s countenance; you have peculiar freedom and liberty in devotion, and more closeness of communion with Christ than before. Now, at such joyous periods when you hear the “sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees,” is the time to rouse yourself; now is the time to get rid of any evil habit, while God the Spirit helps your infirmities. Spread your sail; but remember what you sometimes sing…

I can only spread the sail;
But God must breathe the auspicious gale.

Only be sure you have the sail up. Do not miss the gale for want of preparation for it. Seek help from God, that you may be more earnest in duty when made more strong in faith, that you may be more constant in prayer when you have more liberty at the throne, that you may be more holy in your conversation while you live more closely with Christ.

1Matthew 6:10


I John 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him.

January 19, 2015

Pharaoh Asks Moses to Bless Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:27 pm
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NIV Exodus: 12:31 During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord as you have requested. 32 Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”

Did you catch those last four words? We often skip over this in the Exodus story, but Pharaoh asks Moses for a blessing before they leave.  Why?

In the book Slow Church, C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison write,

A good chunk of the biblical story of Exodus is, in essence, the story of Pharaoh’s fearful brutality against the Israelites.  It’s only after repeatedly failing to subdue the Israelites that Pharaoh gives up in exasperation.  He summons Moses and Aaron and tells them to take their people and get out of Egypt.  But before they leave, Pharaoh asks them to bless him. (p. 162)

They then quote Walter Brueggemann from an article called “The Liturgy of Abundance. The Myth of Scarcity”:

The great king of Egypt, who presides over a monopoly of the region’s resources, asks Moses and Aaron to bless him.  The powers of scarcity admit to this little community of abundance “It is clear that you are the wave of the future.  So before you leave, lay your powerful hands upon us and give us energy.”  The text shows that the power of the future is not in the hands of those who believe in scarcity and monopolize the world’s resources; it is in the hand of those who trust God’s abundance.

In Exodus: A Biblical Commentary, Victor Hamilton writes:

Maybe what Pharaoh wants from Moses’ blessing is a cessation of this plague, but vv. 29-30 suggest the plague has already done its work and run its course.  Does he, in making such a request, hope for some ‘payback’, some sort of quid pro quo, for releasing the Hebrew people?  Is this the prayer of a man at his wits’ end?  Can we hear Pharaoh say something like Jacob says to the ‘man’:  “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Gen 32:26b)?  Predictably, Pharaoh desires a blessing but repenting for his disgraceful, arrogant behaviour never crosses his mind.   p 193

Three things I noticed about Pharaoh’s request:

First of all, this is not a conversion story. It was a polytheistic culture and in conceding that Moses’ God had won the day, so to speak, he is not discarding the gods of his own people, but simply adding Moses’ God to his list of gods now that he feels the Hebrew God has proven Himself. Pharaoh is admitting that God had the ability to bless or curse, but there’s nothing that goes beyond that admission. That can be true of us as well. We say we trust in the atoning work of Jesus for our lives, but we rely on materialism for comfort or on technology to solve problems. We are all, to some degree polytheistic, but we would never think to put it on those terms.

Secondly, the feeling is momentary. He changes his mind again and sends his army after the people, the result being the familiar story of the parting of the Red Sea. To whatever end Pharaoh converts, it’s a short-term conversion. That can be true of people today. Many go forward at major evangelistic crusades, but, to refer to the parable, the seeds are choked out by weeds, wither in the sun, or are scattered by the wind. People are very sincere in the moment, but return to the old mindset. We say we want to rid ourselves of a particular sin, but fall back into it.

Thirdly, Moses does not respond. David Zucker writes:

At an earlier occasion Pharaoh had turned to Moses and said, “Plead for me” (other versions, “pray for me,” Exod. 8:28 [8:24 Hebrew]), and the Bible says that Moses did so (Exod. 8:29, 30). Now, Pharaoh asks again, but Moses is silent.

Pharaoh, representative of Egypt itself, may be pleading on behalf of his empire. Tell me that we will get past this terror!

Or, perhaps Pharaoh is pleading as a parent, a person in pain, a human being hurt by his own hubris. He is seeking a moment of compassion. It is clear that Moses has access to greater power than do the Egyptians. He asks for comfort in his loss, recognition for his pain, and some soothing word of consolation.

Or, perhaps, Pharaoh is seeking life itself? One Jewish teaching suggests that he himself is a firstborn. Bless me that my life will be spared is what he is asking…

Zucker then offers other possibilities for Moses’ silence, and I encourage you to continue reading at Ministry Magazine.

 

 

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